Skin and Hair
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really are four seasons at high altitude. They just aren't
the same as the four seasons elsewhere!
Summer can be
very short. And summer looks different. Usually flowers are
in bloom - there are often an astonishingly high number of
them - and daytime is sunny. Nights are still usually very
chilly though, and winds can make even sunny days miserably
cold. Summer can last from 1 to three months, depending on
altitude and latitude. Hailstorms are not uncommon, and at
the beginning and end of summer, thunderstorms and hard (but
brief) rainstorms are typical. Wind is less of a constant
factor in the summer, but the days in which it is calm may
Fall can also
be very abrupt, with changing of the leaves lasting just a
week or two. Things seem to go from green to brown almost
overnight. Daytime temperatures usually drop rapidly. Fall
may also last from 1 to 3 months, except that instead of it
being a gradually changing season like most places, it tends
to yo-yo - fair and fine weather one day, storms the next.
We can be walking around in snowboots and coats one day, and
up in the hills in t-shirts two days later during the fall
season. The weather tends to be very unpredictable, and variable.
Usually very early in the fall, the wind starts to pick up
again, and most fall days have some degree of wind.
Winter is cold.
Some days are cold and windy. Some days are cold and still.
And some days are so bitter cold that you can damage your
skin if you are out for more than a minute or two with exposed
skin. And only a fool licks a flagpole! Winter comes in with
yo-yoing, and goes out the same way, but in the middle, it
is just plain cold. Some high altitude areas get blizzards
and heavy snowstorms. Some just have powder snow and high
winds. Some get hardly any snow at all, but make up for it
in sheer biting briskness. There may be a LOT of sun in the
winter at high altitude, and it is particularly harsh. Especially
when it glares off snow, or through thin clouds. We usually
associate sunshine with warmth, and it is only after you have
been out in weather that is -10 degrees f. that you understand
that sometimes, sunshine is also cold. There is usually far
more wind in the winter, and calm days are rare.
Spring comes in
like a shy girl who cannot quite make up her mind whether
she really wants to be here, so she keeps darting back into
hiding. Somewhere around March here, and much later elsewhere,
you'll get a brief splash of a warmer day about once a week.
Warm days will again alternate with snowstorms. About April,
you suddenly see a faint blush of green on the prairies, and
you start noticing prairie dogs playing along the highways.
It is still just spring occasionally, and winter the rest
of the time though. It isn't until June that the snowstorms
stop, and we get what other people would call a real spring.
At higher altitudes and higher latitudes, this whole season
can last much longer, or start much later, and not let summer
really in until July or even August. We get the typical late
spring, early summer thunderstorms, but instead of rain, we
get them with snow. It is rather odd to have thunder and lightening,
while snow is falling. Wind, alternating with windstorms,
are pretty typical for spring.
As I write this,
it is a sunny spring day, in May. We are not out of the woods
yet though, my husband commuted home this morning from his
night shift through a light dusting of snow. The major difference
between spring and fall snows, as compared to winter snows,
is that spring and fall produces wet snow, that melts off
fast. It is more dangerous, because it is less expected, and
because it is harder to drive in - slicker.
No one can say
we don't have four seasons though. We do. They just aren't
the typical 'Sunshine, Autumn Leaves, Winter Snow, Spring Flowers
and Rain' type seasons.
Editorial Comments throughout this site written by Laura Wheeler (with occasional sarcastic remarks by her son, David). Laura is a 10 year resident of Medicine Bow, Wyoming, where the altitude is greater than the population. Medicine Bow is at 6200+ ft above sea level, and boasts a total of 297 residents from the last census. Laura is an experienced technical, health and family writer.